TOYOTA GAZOO Racing earned its third win of the 2019-2020 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season with a hard-fought one-two victory in the 8 Hours of Bahrain.
For this race, the World Champions faced a severe success handicap, which reduces hybrid and fuel use per lap, but overcame a strong challenge thanks to strong strategy, fast pit stops and consistent performance, as well as impressive reliability over the 1,390km race.
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, in the #7 TS050 HYBRID, won for the second time this season to retake the lead in the drivers' World Championship.
The #8 TS050 HYBRID of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley, battling a success handicap 0.21secs per lap more than its sister car, finished a lap behind in second to complete a perfect result for the team; a third one-two from four races this season.
A dramatic start saw the #5 Ginetta hit the pole position #1 Rebellion, pushing both cars into a spin which caught up Sébastien in the #8, damaging his front left bodywork. While Sébastien, who had started third, dropped to 10th as a result, Mike avoided the debris from fourth on the grid and took the lead.
Following a safety car, Sébastien got the #8 up to third by the 10th lap, while Mike extended the #7 car's lead as the first fuel stops approached. Mike emerged with a lead of over 30 seconds from the #6 Ginetta but Sébastien, whose #8 required a front bodywork change, came out fourth.
Over the next half an hour, Sébastien pushed to catch the top three and his efforts paid off; after a close fight with the #6 Ginetta, he took third on lap 43. Soon after the 90-minute mark, Mike handed the leading #7 to Kamui while Brendon took over the #8, with both cars on new tyres.
With two-and-a-half hours gone, the race took a twist when the #1 Rebellion, which had been pushing hard to close the gap to Kamui in the #7, lost five minutes in the pits due to a technical problem. That lifted Brendon up to second in the #8 car, although more than a minute adrift of Kamui.
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing was in control of the race, with its nearest challenger, the #5 Ginetta, two laps behind following a troubled first part of its race. With three-and-a-half hours remaining, that car's difficulties continued and it stopped at the side of the track, promoting the #1 Rebellion to third, three laps behind.
Long after darkness fell on the Bahrain International Circuit, and with that comfortable cushion, neither TS050 HYBRID took any risks over the remainder of the race, which finished with only three LMP1 cars running following the retirement of both Ginettas.
José was at the wheel of the #7 when it took the chequered flag to win after 257 laps, establishing an eight-point lead in the drivers' World Championship ahead of the #8 crew, for whom Kazuki brought the car home in second. TOYOTA GAZOO Racing holds a 41-point advantage over Rebellion in the teams' standings.
The World Championship battle will resume in the new year, returning to Austin, Texas following a two-year absence for the 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas on 23 February, the first of a double-header in the United States with the 1000 Miles of Sebring following on 20 March.
Hisatake Murata, Team President:
“I am very pleased with this result, particularly because we expected a big challenge to win here in Bahrain. The team worked hard and focused on delivering the maximum performance in every area. The first part of the race was exciting and we were expecting a close fight until the end, so it was a pity that our rivals had trouble. Now we have come to the end of our racing for 2019, a year when we became World Champions, won Le Mans for a second time and are leading the championship. I would like to thank the team for their efforts to achieve this, as well as the fans and the WEC organisation for their contribution to this year of endurance racing. Now we look forward to another memorable year in 2020.”
Mike Conway (TS050 HYBRID #7):
“It is a fantastic result to get a one-two here. We pushed as hard as we could all day and got a result which we weren't expecting at the start of the week. That is thanks to a great job by everyone; my team-mates and my team. We struggled earlier in the week but together as a team we got the car dialled in. It's brilliant to win and it's nice to lead the World Championship again.”
Kamui Kobayashi (TS050 HYBRID #7):
“To finish the year with a win is great; thanks to the team for doing such a good job here. We knew it would be a tough race as we had some strong competition but we managed it really well, made no mistakes and had fast pit stops. Mike and José did a really good job too. There is still a long way to go in the season but I am really happy and we will be pushing to keep this form going.”
José María López (TS050 HYBRID #7):
“"I am very happy with the win. Everyone in the team, including car #8, did a great job this weekend. Thanks to the team we managed to finish one-two despite very difficult circumstances with the success handicap. Mike and Kamui both performed really well as usual. It is nice to finish the year with a win. This means we go into Christmas and New Year able to celebrate the results we achieved together this year.”
Sébastien Buemi (TS050 HYBRID #8):
“It was a tough race for our car. At the start, I couldn't avoid getting caught up in the incident between the Ginetta and the Rebellion, and I had contact when I rejoined; there was nothing I could do. From there it was difficult to challenge the sister car. But it's a one-two for the team which was the target so I am pleased for that and now I look forward to Austin.”
Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 HYBRID #8):
“In the end it was just not our day today and that was clear from the start of the race onwards. We knew it was going to be difficult and at one moment we were quite a few places down, so at that point our target was to finish second. We managed it and a one-two for the team is good; not ideal for our car but for the team it was the best result we could achieve here.”
Brendon Hartley (TS050 HYBRID #8):
“Today simply didn't go our way. Séb was unlucky at the start; he got caught up in an incident that had nothing to do with him so we had to battle with damage through the whole race. We knew it would be hard to beat the sister car but we were motivated to keep them under pressure. They drove a very good race, with no mistakes and clean pit stops. In the end a one-two for toyota is a great result.”
8 Hours of Bahrain results:
1st #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 257 laps
2nd #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +1 lap
3rd #1 Rebellion (Senna/Menezes/Nato) +3 laps
4th #22 United Autosports (Hanson/Albuquerque/di Resta) +8 laps
5th #38 JOTA (Gonzalez/Da Costa/Davidson) +8 laps
6th #37 Jackie Chan (Tung/Aubry/Stevens) +9 laps
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